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Overcome your fears and live your dreams

Overcoming fears can be challenging at the best of times, but amidst uncertainty and ever-changing landscape is overwhelming for most. In fact, NHS studies indicated almost half (49.6%) of people in Great Britain reported “high” (rating 6 10) anxiety during 2020, up from just 21% in 2019.

A big question is, how can we overcome fear, set new goals, and move forward, when many of us are simply hoping to go back to some sort of normality? Real ‘fear’, physical fear especially, is an external threat that is imminent and in your face. Centuries ago, the feeling of fear may have come from facing a wild animal, but the fear we’re addressing here is rather a self-contrived story that we tell ourselves. This modern-day type of ‘fear’ is the reason so many of us let go of our dreams, ambitions and desires. Evidently, allowing this to happen is poor mind management. When we experience fear, what is really happening is, we’re saying “what if”, followed by a negative statement i.e., “what if they say no?” or “what if I don’t get that promotion?”

Put fear aside… how do you really want to experience your life, and what are you willing to do to take the necessary action moving forward? If you’re someone who wants to level up your performance, personally and professionally, you must overcome the belief that it is fear holding you back and to stop blaming fear for your progress. At a time when so much is going on externally, this may sound blunt, however, we can instead view this as an opportunity to take more control over our minds and tackle this fear.

Start by saying “what if” followed by a positive outcome. “What if she says yes?” “What if I get that job?” “What if I can grow this business?” “What if I believed in myself again?” If you focus on a positive outcome, then you get to change the story! This will change the way you feel. If it’s not fear that’s holding you back, what is? Generally, it’s a lack of connection with something more important than the ‘fear’ that is holding you back. Fear is always there as a survival function to keep us from danger but, we get to push through that when we attach a purpose that something is more important.

For instance, a firefighter entering a blazing building must push through fear with the connection that saving lives is more important than the fear he/she is facing. The firefighter says to himself “What if I can save lives?” If you can stop blaming fear and ask yourself “What if I actually go for this and make it happen?” you will almost immediately begin taking steps towards a more positive outcome.

That being said, asking yourself a more positive question does not magically resolve all your external circumstances. It does, however, bring to the table a more optimistic outlook that can be worked upon. By taking this into consideration and finding more time and space to breathe, you can really focus on different outcomes for your future.

Simply by taking a few minutes out of your day to sit still and focus on breathing has been scientifically proven to reduce anxiety and increase focus. This allows you to see more clearly, be more present and see ‘fear’ for what it really is.
You’ll find that it’s often just a result of being too caught up in the hysteria of everything around you.

Confront Your Fears

Confront your fears with clarity. Write down what your dreams and goals are, then note any reasons you believe have been holding you back and why. What do you have to do, learn, or ask for, in order to overcome that fear or challenge? By practicing this exercise, you will begin to formulate a plan of action that will allow you to move forwards with more clarity. It’s possible you will have a breakthrough on paper that will allow to you to be more courageous in overcoming any fears, blockages or limiting beliefs to change your story. The act of expression often leads to finding our own answers and enables us to see what we need to do to address challenges.

Take Action

Taking action is next on the list. The lack of taking any action is what halts most of us and keeps us from achieving the things we truly desire in life. I coach people in high performance, to take daily action and pick three things that will help them to move forwards. For some, life is difficult, and those three goals each day could be as simple as taking a shower, eating, and talking to a friend but, regardless of your personal situation, creating a daily action list of three things that move the needle towards you achieving the goals you set for yourself will be game-changing. Momentum beats fear every time! By creating a focused momentum, you will build competence and gain confidence.

Set Crazy Goals

When you set new goals, don’t just opt for mediocrity. Set yourself ‘crazy’ goals, goals that previously would’ve made you say, “No way, don’t know how can’t do that!”

Find three big things you would really like to have in your life and write down the fears you’d face if you actually chased those dreams or attempted to accomplish those goals. Identify what those fears are and create an action plan to push them aside. The more you think about those ‘fears’ the more you’ll begin to realize they’re often silly and more than likely will never become a reality. However you feel about the ‘fears’ that are holding you back, know that you can overcome these and change your story to enable you to take the necessary steps forward by inviting some time out to breathe, gather your thoughts and create a do-able action plan to help you to achieve even the ‘craziest’ of dreams.

Originally published on

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How to be more productive working from home: 9 rules for the “now normal”

Science-backed, expert approved tactics you can start using today.

Being efficient with our time during the workday is more challenging than ever. With the switch to remote work, many of us don’t have the built-in parameters of office life to regulate our productivity. That means we need to learn – and lean-on – self-directed strategies if we want to be more productive working from home.

A major new global study into remote working, conducted by Paper Giant for Atlassian, found that 40% of respondents felt that working from home translated to significantly longer hours.

The good news it that it doesn’t have to be this way. As we move away from traditional office spaces, there are a number of hacks and tricks you can deploy to boost your own productivity. The goal? to hit all of your targets without impinging on your wellness or work-life balance whatsoever. Read on for our nine science-backed, expert-approved principles of self-productivity.

1. Master desk-scaping

The Paper Giant study found that 49% of workers felt they needed a better working space if they were to continue working from home – with more than a third (34%) saying their workspace was less comfortable than the office. The solution? Stop shuffling piles of paper and get desk-scaping.  

A recent report published by the Journal of Neuroscience proved that clutter limits the brain’s ability to process information correctly. So, if you want to start completing tasks more efficiently, it’s time to get tidying. 

First, try “zoning” your home office, by creating separate spaces for reference materials, supplies, and long-term projects, before assigning discard dates to as many as possible. Then clear your desk itself and only replace items that are essential for daily use.

Finally, add pops of color wherever you can – from a picture on the wall, to a screensaver or even your choice of mug. Color can have a major impact on mood, with greens and blues particularly proven to increase productivity, so reach for that ocean vista or add a leafy plant to the proceedings. (As well as their greenness, a study from Washington State University found that plants have additional benefits in terms of inspiring productivity).   

2. Embrace mono-tasking

The brutal truth is that very, very few of us can efficiently multi-task. In fact, it’s roughly 2% of the population, according to Professor David Strayer of the University of Utah, an expert in cognitive distraction. The problem is that when we bounce from task to task, we aren’t actually getting more done. Instead, we’re forcing our brains to constantly switch speeds, steering through tasks more erratically and burning out our internal gearboxes. The answer is to slay the multi-tasking monster, and embrace mono-tasking. 

“We’ve been sold the myth that multi-tasking is a valuable skill, giving us the ability to get it all done – but this couldn’t be further from the truth,” says business coach Ryan Jackson, author of “The Success Rebellion.” 

“A more productive approach is to devote days or half-days to themes, or closely related tasks,” he explains. “That way, it’s easier to knock jobs down one at a time and even if you do get distracted, it’s quicker to pick up the thread again.” 

3. Plan tomorrow, tonight

The Paper Giant study discovered that 44% of workers believe it’s now more important to know how to motivate themselves apart from the parameters of office life. One of the best ways to do that is with a to-do list – and the best time to make that list is the night before.  

While you’re still in work mode, take the final 10 minutes of your day to assess what you really need to get done tomorrow – a task which could take twice as long when coming to it cold first thing in the morning. The key trick is to keep your to-do list short so it doesn’t seem overwhelming. According to Niamh Graham, head of Global HR at Workhuman, the Urgent-Important Matrix is a great way to do that. 

“Otherwise known as the Eisenhower Matrix, this is an excellent tool to help prioritise tasks, especially when working from home,” says Graham. “The matrix helps you organise tasks into four quadrants by urgency and importance.” Then you can hone straight in on the ‘Urgent-Important’ tasks and schedule, delegate or eliminate the others. 

4. Make a not-to-do list

You’ve made your to-do list now, but if you want to be truly productive, you’ll need to the opposite, too. A not-to-do list should be a permanent addition to your workspace, featuring all of the time-wasters that are obstructing your daily goals – from checking social media, to clicking on cat videos, to wandering into the kitchen to wash the dishes.

“Without the prospect of your boss loitering behind you, even the most disciplined workers are susceptible to the temptation of time-wasting,” says Jackson. “Creating a [forbidden] list helps remind you what to avoid, while actually blocking yourself from certain websites during the working day will help you even more.”

To make this easier, check out apps like RescueTime, LeechBlock or SelfControl that you can configure to prevent access to selected websites during certain time periods.

5. Block out your flow times

Your “flow” time is when you’re more efficient: a period of hyper-focus when you work most smoothly. For some people, it’s early in the morning, for others it’s the afternoons or evenings. Once you’ve identified yours, block out 90 minutes in that window each day for pure, deep work on your biggest tasks.

“Deep work needs to be performed in a state of distraction-free concentration and is important because, without it, you’ll find yourself constantly focusing on small, non-value-adding tasks and never making progress on your bigger, more important pieces of work,” says certified high-performance coach David Grieve. “Blocking out time is a great way to ensure this crucial period happens every day, without and rings or pings to distract you.”

6. Prioritise Pareto and pomodoros

Named after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, the Pareto Principle (also known as the 80-20 Rule) states that 80% of your results come from 20% of your actions, and vice versa. In other words, to become more productive, you must identify the 20% of your work that is having that 80% impact, and always prioritise it.

Next, you should maximise your minutes spent working on this crucial 20% via the Pomodoro Technique – a series of 25 minute focused “sprints” on a task, followed by a complete five minute break each time.

“The level of our concentration is deeply affected by our mental stamina,” says Grieve. “Pomodoros and Pareto Analysis are two techniques that can help us manage our time more effectively – as is the Getting Things Done (GTD) method by David Allen.”

7. Learn to nap like a pro

Unless you’re looking for an excuse to get fired, napping isn’t an option in a regular office – but it’s a strategy you can use to your advantage when working from home. The secret is to harness your body’s natural circadian rhythm and employ a 20-minute power nap (sometimes called a Stage 2 Nap) in the mid-afternoon, to boost your memory, cognitive skills, and creativity.

By restricting yourself to just 20 minutes, you reap the aforementioned benefits without falling into deeper REM sleep, which will leave you feeling groggy and disoriented. To maximise your energy, drink a cup of coffee immediately before you power nap. Researchers have found that caffeine takes about 20 minutes to show its physiological effect, so it will kick in just as you’re walking.

8. Dress for success

When you’re working from home, it doesn’t really matter how you dress – or even if you dress at all below the waist. But not making a sartorial effort is a major mistake when it comes to your productivity levels. The act of preparing for the day ahead, including the selection of slightly smarter clothes, sends a message to your brain that it’s game time – and that sparks more mental energy.

“Dressing appropriately switched your work mindset to ‘on’, which is crucial for concentration levels and will give you a sense of added purpose,” says leading business and innovation expert Erica Wolfe-Murray, author of Simple Tips Smart Ideas: Build a Bigger Better Business. That doesn’t mean you have to wear a pencil skirt or a three-piece suit while you work from your guest room. But it does mean you should leave the sweat pants in the wardrobe on work days.

9. Set up a “force quit” to your work day

Elite atheletes know that rest is as important as training when it comes to optimal performance – and if you want your productivity to increase, you need to learn that lesson, too. When you’re working from home, it’s easy to let tasks drift into the evening, but that can be problematic – not only for your personal life, but for your output the following day, too (The Paper Giant survey found many workers were beginning to resent the ways work is “colonising” their home home lives).

“Overworking can lead to stress and burnout, harming not only your productivity but also your overall mental health and wellbeing,” Says Graham. “Instead, set a firm time to bring your work day to a close and stick to it at all costs.” If you struggle with this, find an accountability partner – a colleague, friend or manager – and set up a call to officially end the day. A hard finish not only means a softer start to the following morning after a good rest, it also means you’ll work faster and more efficiently each day, knowing that your finish time is non-negotiable.

Article originally published by Atlassian.

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Boost your team’s success by learning when to say no

In today’s workplace, saying yes to everything isn’t realistic – or healthy. By learning to say no the right way, you can reduce stress levels and advance your career, without burning a single bridge.

What is it about ‘no’ that makes it so hard to say at work? It’s a simple, one syllable word, yet all too often – even when we’re brutally overcommitted – many of us are incapable of uttering it. Afraid of appearing lazy, unhelpful or confrontational, the kneejerk office response is always a ‘yes’ – even when we know it’s a recipe for burnout. But the truth is that avoiding ‘no’ can have detrimental effects on everything from our physical and mental health to our overall career progression.

Instead, perhaps we should heed the advice of legendary investor Warren Buffet, who said: “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything.”

If you want to be really successful in the workplace – as an individual and as part of a team – you need to learn when, and crucially how to say no. And to do so in a manner that will not only succeed, but that others will love you for.

According to psychologist Dr. Scott Bea, Assistant Professor of Medicine at Cleveland Clinic, Ohio, and a leading expert in the power of ‘no’, we could be putting ourselves at risk of physical illness by saying ‘yes’ too often. Dr. Bea, who has spent years researching the topic, cites physical symptoms of stress such as muscle pain and gastrointestinal discomfort, as well as the psychological damage done by saying ‘yes’ too often.

“Think of it as carrying a set of logs in your arms,” says Dr. Bea. “There’s going to be one log too many at some point, and they will start falling to the ground. try to notice if tasks are falling off your radar or you’re missing deadlines. that’s a clear sign you’re overdoing it and need to step back.” If you’d said ‘no’ to that last log, of course, none of the others would have fallen.

It’s human nature to want to say ‘yes’ to others – we are social creatures after all. But if we do so all the time, we run the very real risk of dropping the logs over and over again. A recent Stanford University study found that productivity per hour declined sharply when a person worked more than 50 hours a week. Furthermore, researchers found that those who worked up to 70 hours a week were only getting the same amount of work done as those who put in 55 hours. In short, carrying too many logs – in other words, failing to say ‘no’ to additional tasks – wastes time, energy and resources.

There’s no denying that ‘no’ can be an uncomfortable work to say – to colleagues, to superiors and particularly to clients. But since when did sticking to a comfort zone help anyone achieve their goals? We consulted some of the world’s leading business psychologists, career coaches, and etiquette experts to put together the ultimate rules for saying ‘no’ properly. read on for how to turn a perceived negative into a major positive, to drive you and your team on to greater success.

The 10 rules of ‘no’

1. Channel confidence

How you sell you ‘no’ is important. A constructive ‘no’ when you’re overstretched allows you to show professionalism while reinforcing the value of your time. Ideally, you want to be delivering that ‘no’ with clarity, kindness, and respect – and doing so with confidence avoids distorting or diluting your message. “Being confident when delivering your ‘no’ is key,” says certified life coach Dave Knight, host of the Sunday Settler podcast. “If you’re positive and assertive, it shows you value yourself, your time and your existing work. By focusing on that positive, you’ll reduce the chances of upsetting anyone,” Keep your reply short and focus on why you’re saying no: it’s because you’re committed to delivering top quality on your existing workload. So tell them exactly that – and do it with confidence.

2. Rehearse beforehand

Of course you never know when a difficult request is coming, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be prepared, with a list of useful responses saved away safely. According to UC Berkeley sociologist Christine Carter, “When we make a specific plan before we are confronted with a request, we are far more likely later to act in a way that’s consistent with our original intentions.”

So lay the groundwork now, by preparing a few professional-sounding lines in advance, like: “Thanks for thinking of me, but I’m overscheduled to a fault right now” or “I’ll give it some thought, but I’m already working on A and B projects at the moment.” This approach can be particularly helpful in terms of saying ‘no’ to a superior, which can be more difficult than saying no to a colleague.

“I often advise people to jot down what they’re going to say beforehand,” says executive coach Susy Roberts, founder of people development consultancy Hunter Roberts. “Whatever the situation, writing down what you want to say in advance can give you clarity – and that will help you get your message across successfully.”

3. Land your trigger prases

The words and phrases your sprinkle around your ‘no’ make all the difference. In particular, terms like ‘prioritise’, ‘responsibility’, ‘support’ and ‘committed are all good to pepper in your response. “It sounds strange, but when saying ‘no’, the trick is to avoid negative words and phrases around it, because they lend themselves to an overall negative experience,” says Knight. “Sidestep words like ‘unfortunately’ or ‘can’t’, and instead use positive phrases like ‘I can’ or ‘How else can I support you?’ Giving your ‘no’ an optimistic twist with the right trigger phrases will always ensure it’s received better.”

4. Give a reason – and keep it short

The best ‘no’ always come hand in hand with a ‘why’ – and the trick is to keep it succinct. By laying out your entire calendar, you run the risk of having other projects or deadlines challenged. Instead, summarize your current priorities neatly. “You don’t need to go into overly long detail, and you definitely shouldn’t get too personal about things,” says Roberts. “But a short and valid reason is always necessary so people can understand the rationale for your ‘no’.” In practice, a simple phrase like “I have X project which is a high priority for delivery and won’t be finished for Y days” will get your ‘no’ across perfectly.

5. Come from a solution mindset

Ask if you can contribute to the project in another way, or tackle it at a later date. If possible, direct the requester to a helpful resource they might not have considered, such as a useful article or website. Above all, look for small ways to be helpful without taking on the entire burden, like attending brainstorming sessions or reading a first draft, for example. “You just need to be able to show people that you’d like to help them but it’s impossible to complete the entire tasks on this particular occasion – and reinforce the fact that they should always come back in the future,” says Roberts. Specific phrases to use could be: “I can support by doing…| and “Have you considered this alternative?”

6. Make a referral

This tactic is a win-win for both of you because you’re taking the problem off their plate and yours, by placing it somewhere it can be dealt with more efficiently. Suggest other colleagues who might have more bandwidth or applicable expertise, or better still a solid external freelancer, who will thank you for it. “Saying ‘no’ can be a positive for both parties, so long as you suggest alternative people who can do it instead,” says workplace psychologist and business etiquette trainer Paul Russell, founder of the Luxury Academy. “When doing so, always avoid using the word ‘but’, which can sound like you’re making an excuse. You’re not – you’re offering a viable alternative.” This tactic can be particularly useful when dealing with a boss. For example, you could say: “Could I suggest that [x coworker or y freelancer] handles it this time? Because I know he’s well versed in this area and extremely reliable.”

7. Be empathetic and compassionate

It’s always an effective strategy to acknowledge that your ‘no’ might be creating more difficulty for the person asking. Simply adding a sentence like”I realise that my decision means this job is going to be put back in your hands” can make all the difference, painting you as an ally rather than an adversary. The worst tactic is not acknowledging them at all. In other words, ignoring their request and hoping they get the hint. “Not responding is not a professional option,” says certified high-performance coach David Grieve. “That signals that you aren’t showing any empathy or priority to the person making the request. – and it doesn’t help either of you in the short or long term.” Instead, respond quickly – and always acknowledge the other person’s position.

8. Use”we,” “our” and “us” rather than “I”

Using ‘we’ is important because it creates unity and a sense of teamwork. You might not be able to help out on this specific occasion, but you’re still a team player and you’re still pulling in the same direction as them. This approach can be particularly effective when you’re saying ‘no’ on behalf of others too. “Saying ‘no’ can be a great way to demonstrate leadership in terms of protecting your own team, and that should impress those higher up the food chain too,” says Knight. “Plus, your team will love you for putting their needs and wellbeing first, and that will inspire them to work harder for you.” To put this into effect, try a phrase like: “Our team is working at maximum capacity on X and Y projects. Perhaps we could look to a different approach, such as Z?”

9. Show gratitude for being asked

Always make it clear that you’re grateful to be asked. Remember, if someone is throwing tasks in your direction, it means they have confidence in you and faith in your ability. And that in itself deserves some recognition. Let them know you’re flattered to be considered – after all, you want to keep the door open to future, more amenable projects. “The best way to display gratitude is by saying things like ‘That sounds really interesting’ or ‘I appreciate you considering me for this’,” says Grieve. Ultimately it’s a ‘no’, but it sounds way better as a ‘no, but thank you so much for asking’.

10. Always end on a positive note

A good way of ending an email or phone conversation where you’ve delivered a ‘no’ is with a simple “Thanks for understanding”. You’re being professional, courteous and clear, but also confident, assertive and decisive, leaving no room for more back-and-forth. “When you’re signing off, you need to be polite but direct,” says Russell. “Don’t fall into the trap of insincerity at this stage, saying how desperately sorry you are. Your ultimate goal is to show that you’re able to make decisions in a clear-sighted way and that you’re direct and honest. the way you finish your ‘no’ needs to underline that.”

Article first published by Atlassian.